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Kenneth Mack

  • Can History Prepare Us for the Trump Presidency?

    January 23, 2017

    ...Politico Magazine asked historians to identify which moments in history most resemble this one, and what those moments can teach us about the presidency and the country today...Kenneth W. Mack, professor of law and affiliate professor of history at Harvard University...It is perilous, in the extreme, to compare our present to any past moment. But that has not stopped many commentators, and our new president himself, from invoking the inauguration of Andrew Jackson as historical precedent. There are real reasons for this. Jackson is, depending whom you ask, either our first populist president or a border ruffian who left us the Trail of Tears and a financial crisis that bankrupted ordinary Americans. He was, of course, both. Less prominent has been the comparison between Donald Trump and Andrew Johnson, the first president to be impeached in the House. Both of these comparisons, however, are difficult.

  • Lessons Taught: Obama’s Legacy as a Historian

    January 19, 2017

    Around noon on Friday, the presidency of Barack Obama will officially be history, and for months the news media has been awash in considerations of the first African-American president’s legacy. But there’s one aspect of his record that has received less attention: his legacy as a historian...Kenneth Mack, a historian at Harvard Law School who has known Mr. Obama since they were classmates there, said that he was “the first president who has really been able to wrap the history of the civil rights movement into the fabric of American history,” while also pointedly hailing other marginalized groups’ push for inclusion in “We the people.” “It’s not just about commemorating the heroes of the past,” Mr. Mack said, “but also things Americans disagreed about, and still disagree about.”

  • Joseph Singer speaking

    Diversity and U.S. Legal History

    December 7, 2016

    During the fall 2016 semester, a group of leading scholars came together at Harvard Law School for the lecture series, "Diversity and US Legal History," which was sponsored by Dean Martha Minow and organized by Professor Mark Tushnet, who also designed a reading group to complement the lectures.

  • Austin Hall

    Mack, Rubenstein elected members of the American Law Institute

    November 23, 2016

    The American Law Institute has elected HLS Professors Kenneth Mack ‘91 and William Rubenstein ’86 as members.

  • 7 attendees posing dressed up for the event

    CBA 2016: Turning Vision into Action

    September 30, 2016

    Over 800 alumni returned to Harvard Law School for the fourth Celebration of Black Alumni (CBA), Turning Vision into Action. The event brought together generations of black alumni to reconnect with old friends, network with new ones and take part in compelling discussions about the challenges and opportunities in local, national and global communities.

  • Green Mountains racial history isn’t black and white

    August 4, 2016

    ...Following Whitfield, fellow scholar Kenneth Mack brought the past into the present. Mack, a Harvard Law School classmate of President Barack Obama, now teaches at his alma mater. But racial challenges persist: Last fall, someone defaced portraits of Mack and other black professors with electrical tape. "There's a lot of work to be done," the educator said. That's one reason Mack has written "Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer," a history of the pioneering African-Americans who first fought for equality. "It is about a group of men and women who changed America," he told a Woodstock audience. "The past is more complicated than we think it is, and it helps us understand the present is more complicated than we think it is. To see what I'm getting at, you've got to hear the stories."

  • Bookstock Speaker, Professor: Race Issue Still Unsolved

    July 28, 2016

    When Kenneth Mack was a student at Harvard Law School in the 1980s, the campus was a protest ground. It was a time when students and faculty strongly disagreed with each other — a time when the majority of professors were white men. Mack attended Harvard with Barack Obama. They were in the same class together and worked on the independent, student-run Harvard Law Review their second and third years...Mack will be in Woodstock to speak on Saturday for the annual Bookstock literary festival — a three-day event. He’ll be talking about his book, “Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer,” at 3 p.m.

  • What Are Obama’s Post-Presidency Plans?

    July 6, 2016

    Harvard Law Professor Kenneth Mack on President Obama's post presidency plans.

  • The 14th Amendment (audio)

    May 18, 2016

    Passed by Congress 150 years ago (thanks in large part to Maine’s own William Pitt Fessenden), learn about its history and why it is cited in more litigation than any other amendment. Guests: Kenneth W. Mack, Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law and Affiliate Professor of History, Harvard University. Patrick Rael, Professor of History, Bowdoin College.

  • Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt’s Beloved Radical

    February 29, 2016

    A book review by Kenneth Mack. During her long and contentious life that spanned much of the twentieth century, Pauli Murray (1910–1985) involved herself in nearly every progressive cause she could find. Yet the contributions of this black woman writer, activist, civil rights lawyer, feminist theorist, and Episcopal priest have largely escaped public attention. Murray earned a reputation as an idealist who saw the world differently from many of the activists who surrounded her. She also walked away from several important organizations and movements when they were at the height of their influence. At the same time, her actions have seemed prescient to those involved in many of the social movements that have subsequently claimed a piece of her legacy. Through her friendships and writings, Murray left a long list of people deeply influenced by her, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, social activist Marian Wright Edelman, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Murray’s life story deserves to be made available to the larger public, but how does one do so in a way that honors her own obdurate unwillingness to be reduced to any clear set of vectors—to be, in effect, agreeable?

  • Closeup of Sir Hilary Beckles speaking and pointing at the front of the courtroom

    Case for reparation gains international force

    February 26, 2016

    During a talk Monday at Harvard Law School, Sir Hilary Beckles, a distinguished historian, scholar, and activist from Barbados, made the case for reparations, a discussion that has been re-energized in the U.S. by the Black Lives Matter movement .

  • Case for reparation gains international force

    February 26, 2016

    Forty acres and a mule. The order by Union General William T. Sherman in January 1865, just after the Civil War ended, to offer some recompense to newly freed slaves for the harms they had suffered was a radical, tantalizing promise that never came to be. More than 150 years later, the question of whether nations that benefited from the African slave trade between the 16th and 19th centuries bear a responsibility to provide financial reparations for their crimes — as well as the lasting economic, social, and political damage they caused — remains unsettled. Many political and Civil Rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., have tried to gain traction for the idea periodically over the years, without much success...“This is not about retribution and anger, it’s about atonement; it’s about the building of bridges across lines of moral justice,” said Sir Hilary Beckles, a distinguished historian, scholar, and activist from Barbados, during a talk Monday at Harvard Law School...[Kenneth] Mack and [Annette] Gordon-Reed noted the many real-world opportunities in Boston and across the United States that exist right now for HLS students to facilitate getting reparations for black people through the legal system. “All of us derive a present-day benefit from the oppression, the degradation of human beings. And what should we do as an institution to make reparations for that” is what should be on everyone’s mind in thinking broadly about the concept of reparations, said Mack.

  • HLS Panel Encourages Reparative Justice Over Buried History

    February 23, 2016

    At a time when Harvard finds itself debating the ways controversial history is remembered on campus, Caribbean historian Hilary M. Beckles told a Harvard Law School audience the best way to deal with a thorny past is confronting it head on. “There’s no point in burying the legacy and memories,” Beckles said. “Let us bring everything to the surface and find a way forward through all of this.” Beckles was the keynote speaker at a panel discussion on reparatory justice for Caribbean countries that facilitated the slave trade, and was joined by other Harvard professors on the panel in the Law School’s Ames courtroom..Alexander J. Clayborne, a third-year Law School student who has helped organize protests, attended the event and said he found the talk “powerful,” especially as it pertained to both global and current events at Harvard...Professors Annette Gordon-Reed, Kenneth W. Mack, and Vincent Brown also participated in the panel.

  • Grad Student Lecture Series Asks Audience to Think Differently

    February 8, 2016

    Student-nominated speakers from across Harvard presented TED-talk style mini-lectures at the sixth annual “Lectures that Last” in front of a packed Memorial Church audience Saturday evening. With topics ranging from bilingualism to successful marriages, and from racial inclusion to economic development, the professors and deans on the stage challenged the audience to think differently about events in their everyday lives. The event was targeted for graduate students across the Harvard...In a speech that touched on recent race-related controversies at Harvard Law School, Law professor Kenneth W. Mack delved into the definition of inclusion. Some Law school students “have called for things that constitute a fundamental challenge to the rules that govern a University,” he said. “I think that those kinds of questions and those kinds of problems are entirely worthy of our attention.”

  • Greenhouse Talks ‘He Said, She Said’ Journalism

    November 19, 2015

    Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former Crimson editor Linda J. Greenhouse ’68 gave the second of three lectures in her series “Just a Journalist: Reflections on Journalism, Life, and the Spaces Between” on Wednesday. In her lecture, titled “Stories,” Greenhouse argued that the media’s overemphasis on objectivity diminishes its ability to present issues accurately. Greenhouse said there are several disturbing trends in the way stories are currently reported. For example, she described the way that journalists distance themselves from their work through tactics such as putting something they believe to be true in the words of someone else....The lecture series is sponsored by Harvard’s Graduate Program in American Studies. In his introduction to the talk, Harvard Law School professor Kenneth W. Mack praised Greenhouse’s deft reporting on the Supreme Court, coverage for which she is well known. “She’s someone that’s not shy about both informing us and making us think when she writes,” Mack said.

  • With three steps forward and two back, citizenship denial exemplifies ‘US mambo’ (video)

    July 23, 2015

    Maria Hinojosa, Ron Christie, Kenneth Mack, and Efrén C. Olivares join Melissa Harris-Perry to consider why some babies born in Texas are being denied birth certificates - even though the 14th Amendment should guarantee their citizenship.

  • For President Obama, a fourth quarter surge (video)

    July 23, 2015

    Melissa Harris-Perry and her panel break [including Professor Kenneth Mack] down President Obama's unprecedented week, in which he addressed criminal justice reform, foreign policy, and more.

  • Pres. Obama: ‘Drugging women for sex is rape’ (video)

    July 17, 2015

    Harvard Law School Professor Kenneth Mack weighs in on President Obama's unprecedented remarks about rape allegations surrounding Bill Cosby.

  • An Interview with Kenneth W. Mack, Inaugural Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law

    February 20, 2015

    Today’s interview is a guest post by Liah Love Caravalho, a program specialist in the Office of Legislative and External Relations of the Law Library of Congress. Below, Liah provides an interview with Kenneth W. Mack, inaugural Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law at Harvard University. Prof. Mack was a speaker at the 2013 Library of Congress National Book Festival, where he discussed his book, Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer. He is also the co-editor of The New Black: What Has Changed–and What Has Not–with Race in America. Please share your educational and academic background and specifically what made you decide that law was your true vocation? I started my professional life as an electrical engineer, designing computer chips at Bell Laboratories in the late 1980s after my graduation from Drexel University. I went to law school because I wanted to try something different. I liked technology, but I didn’t feel as though it was my life’s passion. This was, of course, before the development of the World Wide Web, social media, bio-engineering and other fields that now make technology seem like the place to be. I thought that law was my true calling almost from the day I started Harvard Law School. We seemed to be grappling with problems of inequality, politics, economics, policy and history–although we were doing it using lawyers’ tools. It was one of the most exciting periods in my life, and it just seemed completely different than engineering.

  • Five myths about Valerie Jarrett

    November 17, 2014

    Valerie Jarrett is the most talked-about White House aide in Washington — and that’s not always a good thing. Jarrett has come under attack after the midterm elections, with critics charging that she wields too much influence over her boss. Part of her mystique stems from the fact that, as other top aides have come and gone, Jarrett has survived. Her longevity and proximity to President Obama and Michelle Obama have made her something of a Beltway legend — and have conjured up a series of misconceptions about her...Complaints about presidential advisers have a long tradition. “In almost every presidency you can name a powerful White House figure who had informal power of one kind or another that was the subject of dispute,” said Kenneth Mack, a Harvard historian. “Sherman Adams had an immense amount of power in Eisenhower’s White House; same with Harry Hopkins and Franklin Roosevelt.”

  • It’s Not Obama, It’s Just the Sixth Year

    November 6, 2014

    An op-ed by Kenneth W. Mack. If you want to know who to blame for any number of global and domestic crises, there is one simple answer, according to many critics: Barack Obama. The tide turned against many Democratic Congressional candidates in this year’s mid-term elections largely, some claim, because of President Obama’s relatively low approval ratings. Critics have charged Obama with indecision in the face of crises ranging from ISIS to Ebola. The seeming drift began soon after his second inaugural address – delivered only last year – when his ambitious call to collective action was quickly overtaken by a series of controversies ranging from the NSA surveillance leaks to the botched rollout of Yet a quick look back at history complicates the notion that these challenges are rooted in President Obama’s individual leadership deficiencies. It also illuminates a factor that does, indeed, make this president’s situation unique: the often-ignored fact that he is America’s first black president.